WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE FREE?

July 11, 2019

 

 

 

What does it mean to be free? Does it mean simply living in a democratic country, one that offers all citizens inalienable rights like voting and the freedom to worship as they see fit? Does it mean living in a capitalist country, one that ostensibly provides everyone the opportunity to be upwardly mobile and perhaps even rich?

 

Does being free simply mean not being a slave or a servant, or not residing behind the cold steel doors of some prison?

 

Surely these things are all a part of being free, but certainly freedom is about much more than just checking ballot boxes in November or avoiding servitude or lockup. I think that true freedom is about personal freedom, a freedom of the mind and spirit. It is about the freedom to live as ourselves and the freedom to be vibrant and healthy through means of our own definition.

 

It is about the freedom to believe that the battles we wage in our everyday lives mean something. Let me say it again! The battles we fight to find better health and happiness—the battles we wage to become better people or to affect our own little corners of the world in a positive way—are meaningful. They things should never be dismissed as inconsequential.

 

True freedom means living as if our every day is extremely consequential.

 

 

 

Most people in America aren’t residing in physical prisons, but there are many who are living within prisons of their own construction: mental prisons, emotional prisons, and spiritual prisons—stifling fortresses built of limited ideas about what life in general ought to be, and about what their lives in particular can possibly be.

 

Too often we don’t recognize or take advantage of our freedom. Too often we are led to believe that our struggles and emotions and dreams are inconsequential. Has that ever happened to you?

 

At times I bet we’ve all been guilty of squandering our freedom by living as trapped individuals—scared human beings trapped by spiritual obtuseness, addiction, debt, needless guilt, misguided ideas about health or self-worth, unfulfilling jobs that consume our energy, or simple lies that other people tell us regarding what “reality” is.

 

But what if we all worked to shed our own individual shackles? What if we each made a resolution to become more personally free this year, to believe more fully that we are indeed entitled to the pursuit of happiness in all its forms (personally, professionally, and spiritually)?

 

How good could life be then?

 

 

THE LEGACY OF SACRIFICE: THE RESPONSIBILITY TO MAKE THE MOST OF OUR FREEDOM

 

 

 

Freedom was on my mind during my run the other day, and so was sacrifice. The sacrifice of so many young people who’ve fought in this country’s wars over the years.

 

It was about 85 degrees and muggy—just another in a string of topsy-turvy thunderstorm days, the sort where you might get hours of brilliant sunshine or you might get pummeled by torrential downpours punctuated by frightening winds and jagged lines of lightening.

 

Thankfully my wife, Claudia, and I were able to avoid the storms. We loaded up her bike into the back of our truck and drove over to one of the ill-marked access points of the southern Wiouwash trail, a rustic dirt and gravel biking/running path that runs from Hortonville to Oshkosh, WI and that winds through wooded areas and open farmer’s fields.

 

It must have rained on the trail that morning, because I immediately spotted a wealth of puddles and decided to change into my “backup” pair of running shoes, the navy pair of Saucony shoes that I don’t really care about getting dirty like I do my precious gray Brooks.

 

It’s only a couple of miles into the run, and the heat and humidity are already enveloping me like a blanket. I’m soaked with sweat and my legs are beginning to feel heavy. My pace is slowing down, and I’m wondering if I shouldn’t have shot for six miles today instead of eight.

 

But I’ve already told Claudia that I’d be turning around at the four- mile mark, which is just past that brewery we once biked to, and she’s already well ahead of me and now there’s no stopping early.

 

Miles three and four are a chore, almost unenjoyable—there’s no other way to put it. But about a half mile after hitting the turnaround, that emotional surge happens for me—that endorphin-flooded feeling when reality simultaneously becomes more lucid and dreamlike.

 

As The Rolling Stones Gimme Shelter plays on my MP3, I find myself running through a marshy area of the trail and thinking about war. At first I’m thinking in breezy modern metaphors—things like “This run is my personal battle” and so on—but then I find myself being transported back in time. Back to the late ‘60s or early ‘70s, a time before I was born. The landscape I’m inhabiting looks like Vietnam, and I begin to see young soldiers in front of me and behind me. We’re plodding through never-ending recon missions in perpetually damp boots while trying not to step through tripwires that might set off grenade explosions.

 

Suddenly I’m seeing Vietnamese enemies lying in wait—waiting to rip my guts out or to maim my limbs and my friends.

 

I’m wondering how I feel about killing now.

 

My first-world life in 2019 puts so much distance between myself and actual poverty or warfare—I’m a writer, a running enthusiast, and a cat lover—but what if there was no distance. What if poverty-stricken enemies in a godforsaken land were trying to end my existence on this earth, and it was me or them? Would I be able to end a life to save my own or those of my friends, and what would that do to my soul?

 

The lyrics from Gimme Shelter lend color to my Vietnam imaginings: “War, children, it’s just a shot away. Rape, murder, it’s just a shot away.”

 

I see helicopters thundering overhead like mad, prehistoric birds, and I see mutilated young Americans lying beside my feet in the hot dirt crying for their mothers. Crying to go home.

 

If I were one of those young soldiers, perhaps I’d be trying to numb the pain with whatever drug was available. Hell, I’ve never even been to war and I’ve already been through periods like that in my pampered life.

 

If I was one of those young soldiers, I think I’d just want to go numb or go home. But I’d be forced to continue fighting for freedom.

 

I guess we’re all forced to continue fighting for our freedom—fighting for our survival and a better tomorrow—because we have no other choice.

 

 

As I continue running, I see that my wife is waiting ahead for me with a water bottle, and my mind snaps back to 2019 Wisconsin. A couple of slugs of H2O and I’m returned to reality. I take off my waterlogged shirt, wring it out, and continue my eight-mile trek as she once again peddles ahead or me.

 

The next song on my MP3 is a live version of All Along the Watchtower by the Dave Matthews Band, and when the bass player, Stefan Lessard, starts in with a solo rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, my thoughts return to war and to the millions of sacrifices that have cumulatively given me the freedom I enjoy today.

 

Now I’m not some fool given to blind patriotism—I’m a skeptic and a dove, for the most part—but today the Star Spangled Banner is giving me shivers. I’m emotionally wobbly to think of those many young men who were splintered and torn and ended by the Civil War, the World Wars, the Vietnam War, and the wars of this millennium in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other lesser-reported locations.

 

I hate war, but I love those young Americans who fought in them and what they sacrificed for me—whether it was necessary or not.

 

As the Star Spangled Banner plays, I begin to question the worthiness of my life. What have I sacrificed? What have I accomplished? Those young soldiers fought true battles, I think. The kinds with bullets and bayonets and bombs and flame throwers. Not the pampered sorts of wars that so many people fight in this country today—the internecine wars of the mind that result from too much privilege and too much free time. The narcissistic wars to become a personal brand or get a beach body or get promoted at work. The athletic “wars” talked about by professional game-players in the NFL and NBA and Olympics. The “my workout is my battle” sorts of wars that me and so many privileged others are accustomed to.

 

I’m struck by the realization that most wars nowadays are personal wars—wars of one’s own creation. What do the stakes of those wars mean anyway? My generation and those below me are mostly fighting with own fears and self-image issues; we are fighting with our own cloistered anxieties and sadnesses and pressures, because we have that luxury.

 

But as much as I want to say, “Okay, the wars of those soldiers were real and these other wars that the rest of us are fighting now aren’t,” I can’t say that. Because I know from experience that personal wars of the soul and mind and body can be hell—and triumph—too!

 

I know that a part of appreciating our freedom—the freedom that was won with bullets and blood—is taking our own personal battles seriously, taking the quest to improve ourselves and our corners of the world seriously. We each need to make the most of our lives, whatever that means for each of us individually.

 

Through the unspeakable sacrifices of others, we’ve all been granted unimaginable freedoms, so now we each have a responsibility to make the most of that freedom.

 

And God has gifted us these precious lives—and the greatest latitude of all, free choice—so we need to start choosing health and happiness!

 

I guess I’m saying, take your own battles seriously! Do something with your life! Appreciate it, and nurture it!

 

Don’t for a second think that the battles you are fighting right now don’t mean something. Own them.

 

Define your objectives. Plan your attacks. Make progress. Experience victory and freedom for yourself.

 

That is the legacy that those brave souls who made the ultimate sacrifice left us: The freedom, and even the responsibility, to fight our personal battles and make the most of them. The ability to free our minds so that they aren’t enslaved by demonic prescription medications or manipulative political rhetoric or soul-numbing corporate BS or brainwashing entertainment or small-minded ideas about God.

 

You have the freedom, today and every day, to pick your own battles and work toward victory. So just pick battles that mean something. Pick ones that make you—and the world—better, and then take them seriously. That is your freedom.

 

 

Michael Priebe is a writer and personal development coach who has studied psychology, literature, and print journalism. He holds a journalism degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he graduated with honors. and over the years he has used both fiction and nonfiction formats to write about health, sports, professional life, politics, relationships, and spiritual issues. He puts out a variety of spiritually inspiring content at The Lovely Grind, and he blogs about his life at www.michaelpriebewriter.com. He invites you to reach out to him on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Based on the powerful poetry of the Psalms, Lead Me Beside Still Waters of Life offers fourteen daily devotions for those going through benzodiazepine withdrawal and/or antidepressant withdrawal. These devotions help readers to stay spiritually connected while finding emotional and mental relief from antidepressant withdrawal and/or benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms. 

 

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